We should encourage kids to own a business

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We continue a conversation with Maine’s first Small Business Advocate, my friend, Jay Martin. Jay’s office was established within Maine’s Secretary of State’s office. He is experienced working in Maine’s nonprofit sector, and in the private sector. We covered the highlights of his work experience in our June 2 column.

Based on his work experience, especially as Maine Small Business Advocate, Martin has good ideas for improving rural Maine’s business climate.

As a quick refresher on his tenure as Maine’s Small Business Advocate, Martin said, “If the Office of the Small Business Advocate doesn’t exist, the option is [for business owners] to hire a lawyer.” Jay is not a lawyer. As Small Business Advocate he did not give legal advice. His focus was Maine small businesses with 50 or fewer employees, snarled in government regulations, facing penalties likely to force worker firings or closing the business altogether.

Jay “worked to facilitate and negotiate with regulatory agents an equitable resolution of this matter,” he said.

Fostering entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to college is an option Martin believes would be helpful. I agree. Making it a point to avoid coming off as just one more voice blaming the public school system, Jay said growing up, especially during his high school years, he “never was encouraged to consider starting and owning my own business.”

Parents, guidance counselors — the whole focus was on students going to college right out of high school, getting a four-year degree, and getting a job with a large, established business. That was the key to success. Jay was discouraged from his passion, his dream of opening a restaurant — which I identify with completely. I wanted to be a drummer!

Jay would like to see it emphasized more in schools that there are opportunities for entrepreneurs in rural Maine where they can start something and make it grow. This importance of entrepreneurship in rural Maine was exactly what Nicole Snow of Darn Good Yarn emphasized last month.

Jay and I were both surprised to find out the large extent to which micro-business owners of one to three employees contribute to rural Maine economies. To this day, Jay Martin holds Maine micro-business owners — entrepreneurs by nature and definition — in highest regard. His father, J. Normand Martin, was a micro-businessman with his own advertising agency. He is best known, perhaps, as the designer of Bangor’s signature Paul Bunyan statue.

Micro-business owners “are trying very hard. They know if they don’t make the next dollar they’re going to be in trouble. They have to make it. It’s not just a question of going to a job, going through the motions, and getting a paycheck,” Jay said. “Having to be dynamic, dedicated to their business, and dealing with all the attendant stress of that? I can’t speak highly enough of small business owners that take that risk,” he said.

Our phone conversation ended. Moments later, Jay Martin called again with one more reality he saw as Small Business Advocate, of which he wanted small business owners “to be quite aware.

“The complexity of our regulatory, tax, and legal systems provides a competitive advantage to larger, established businesses. Once they’re able to understand all the necessary requirements of being in full compliance, that’s a competitive advantage for them. The extent to which other businesses are facing that complexity, and the burden of figuring it out and maintaining regulatory, tax, and legal system compliance — that becomes kind of a protectionist system for larger, established businesses. In some cases, businesses see that as a way to inhibit competition from blossoming,” Jay said.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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